Robbie Brady proved himself a future Irish captain in waiting, and other lessons from last night...
1. ROBBIE BRADY IS ON THE UP
The upper echelons of the English Premier League has been without an Irishman since John O’Shea frequented it with Manchester United but Robbie Brady may be heading that way. Three assured displays by the 24-year-old further enhanced his marketability, with champions Leicester City amongst those prepared to fork out €12m for the versatile Norwich City player.
Having started against Sweden at left-back, he was pushed into the middle during the humbling by Belgium on Saturday. He showed enough prowess in there to be thrust into a starting role for the must-win game and there was more of an Italian than Irish twang to his performance.
Brady’s contribution was far more than the set-piece provider he’s become renowned for. Driving from midfield with a great deal of frequency, he supplied plenty of first-half services before nodding home the winner. Doubtless a future Irish captain in waiting.
2. JAMES MCCARTHY REVELS WITHOUT WHELAN
Theories that McCarthy fares better in an Irish shirt began last October after he shone in the 1-0 win over Germany. It wasn’t his first time to do so, as the Glaswegian gave one of his other best showings back in March 2013 when injury also kept Whelan out of the World Cup qualifier against Sweden.
Whether that pattern influenced Martin O’Neill to drop Whelan for this critical clash is unclear but McCarthy definitely looked a different player to the one who toiled in the second half against Sweden and for the hour he featured in the Belgian battering.
Perhaps Whelan and McCarthy are too similar in style, each best suited to anchoring the engine-room, but the redeployment of an attack-minded Brady in that area afforded McCarthy more authority to assert himself in front of Ireland’s back four.
3. THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD HAS STARTED
A famous victory secured without Robbie Keane, Shay Given, Jon Walters, Glenn Whelan, and John O’Shea illustrated the evolution of the Ireland team for the next World Cup campaign is well underway.
If there were doubts over how the ageing of the side would transition, then the likes of Brady, Hendrick and Shane Duffy proved it is achievable. The stellar contribution of Duffy, on his first competitive start,vindicated O’Neill’s bombshell decision to axe vice-captain O’Shea and the place is now his to lose heading into the knockout phase.
Others like Seamus Coleman and McCarthy delivered when it mattered most, dominating the Italians on key areas to leave the tie hanging strongly in Ireland’s favour as the crucial last 10 minutes came.
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